Michael Jordan’s not a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame yet. He’s been voted in, of course, and he’ll be inducted on 9/11 (Guys, you couldn’t have picked a better day? Like literally any other day?), but technically, he’s not there yet. But he’s got an exhibit there already in advance of his enshrinement.
It’s a sprawling shrine to the man who revolutionized not only pro basketball but corporate sponsorship - and therein lies a rather jarring problem. That entire exhibit to him, full of sneakers and championship rings? None of it came from MJ himself.
As Richard Sandomir of the NEW YORK TIMES writes, the exhibit wass entirely paid for and curated by the Monolithic Swoosh:
“Becoming Legendary: The Story of Michael Jordan,” which recently opened at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in advance of Jordan’s induction on Sept. 11, is a soulless exercise in corporate worship that was designed, installed, written, curated and paid for by the Jordan Brand, a division of Nike.
When baseball players are inducted into their hall of fame, they often lend artifacts of their time. Jordan did not.
Those six Chicago Bulls championship rings encased in plexiglass? He doesn’t own any of them.
The wall of Air Jordans that looks like a display at Foot Locker? Jordan didn’t soar in any of them.
A short video of Jordan’s feats, accompanied by his reciting basketball-oriented descriptions of “What Is Love?” Well, that was a longNike video from a few years ago that is easy to summon on YouTube.
Not a jersey, a ball or a sneaker came straight from Jordan.
“I was hopeful that the vault would be opened,” said Matt Zeysing, the hall’s historian and archivist, who is an exuberant fan of an exhibit that he said had already attracted additional visitors.
On one hand, it’s kind of a slap in the face that Nike took care of literally every aspect of the exhibit up until actually owning the building surrounding it. But if we’re to take it personally or be disappointed, it’s only because we hadn’t been paying attention to the ESPN-like gross overreach Nike does when it comes to self-promotion and using its financial heft.
Further, this isn’t the hallowed grounds of Canton or Cooperstown; the Basketball Hall of Fame is more like a Fun Zone with expensive things, full of interactive exhibits and other things to satiate the modern epidemic of ADHD that normal museums can’t hope to address. Or, to put it in sunnier terms:
But it lacks the shrine-like, reverential, artifact-dense sensibility of the baseball hall by design. “We’re a lot more upbeat,” Zeysing said of the basketball hall.
Upbeat! I had no idea Cooperstown was like the sports version of the Holocaust Museum. Thanks for opening our eyes on that one, chief.
And as if it’s at all surprising, management is perfectly fine with the humongous advertisement sitting smack-dab in the middle of a “Hall of Fame”:
John Doleva, president of the hall, said he had no concerns about a corporation synonymous with Jordan bankrolling and installing an exhibit that the hall could not afford. Nike denied a report that the exhibit cost $250,000. Doleva wrote in an e-mail message that the tie between Jordan and Nike “is unique in my mind; it transcends a typical player/company relationship.” He said the Jordan Brand “wanted to honor Michael” and “we were pleased to get a well-designed exhibit.”
To that end, it’s not necessarily unique for corporations to sponsor exhibits - take a look around a regular museum sometime and pay attention to how many companies get their names on the walls - and if Nike put in something that the HoF couldn’t afford, then so much the better, right?
But Jordan’s total lack of personal involvement, eschewed in favor of a corporation looking out for its own interests first and foremost, seems like the greatest injustice of this all. Jordan doesn’t need to be hyped or - ahem - sold to visitors at a Hall of Fame. They’d be every bit as enthralled at an old pair of sneakers or a withered North Carolina jersey. But Nike does need to be sold, because they’re a business, man, and this is a fantastic way to do so. It just doesn’t seem, y’know… right.